December 2012/January 2013 : Country report
An evergreen dream
A constant crop of new resorts and air links is keeping Phuket’s MICE allure shining, but its infrastructure needs to play catch-up. By Xinyi Liang-Pholsena
A perennial favourite on the Asian MICE scene, Phuket continues to see a healthy line-up of MICE events, driven by the perpetual expansion of its hospitality sector and F&B attractions suitable for use by event and incentive planners.
According to C9 Hotelworks, a total of 5,080 rooms are expected to enter Phuket by 2015, representing an increase equivalent to 11 per cent of the existing inventory. Notable additions in 1H2012 include the 228-key Crowne Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach Resort and the 303-key Novotel Phuket Vintage Park Resort, while the 262-room Pullman Phuket Arcadia Naithon Beach Resort and the 250-room All Seasons Phuket Patong Beach are some of the properties expected to open next year.
TCEB’s senior manager of meeting industry department, Puripan Bunnag, estimated that Phuket received about 15 per cent of all meetings and incentives in Thailand. Phuket was named the bureau’s first ‘MICE City’, which saw the destination being promoted through the 7 Wonders of the Andaman campaign earlier this year to target the Oceania market.
Airports of Thailand commenced the 5.7 billion baht (US$185.7 million) expansion of the congested Phuket International Airport in September 2012. Due to be completed by April 2015, the airport will see its annual handling capacity ramped up from 6.5 million to 12.5 million passengers, and the addition of a new international terminal.
At the same time, an increase in air links and frequencies are additional factors fuelling MICE growth for Phuket. Besides upcoming links to Dubai and London by Emirates and Thomson Airways respectively, on the domestic front, THAI Smile has launched daily Bangkok-Phuket flights on 168-seat Airbus A320-200 aircraft since October 1, 2012.
Li Ann Loo, Westin Siray Bay director of sales, said: “With more (flights into Phuket) expected to come online in 2013, (the destination will have) a greater potential internationally.
“This year our MICE bookings have grown by more than 25 per cent, particularly for the meeting segment. We have definitely seen a significant increase from Russia and China which are among the top growth markets, with a combined share of 34 per cent in 1H2012 as compared to 25 per cent for the same period in 2011.”
Jeroen Meijer, director of business development of Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa, said: “We have seen double-digit growth this year compared to 2011. The impact of several direct flights into Phuket, the strong Australian dollar and the increase in Chinese visitors to the island has driven this growth.
“For 2013, we are seeing continued growth, predominantly from the South-east Asian, Chinese and Australian markets, and we have already secured several events more than one year out. It’s been a while since we last saw this in the marketplace, with a few exceptions on the side. Medium-sized events are currently growing in demand.”
Besides the rosy outlook on Phuket’s MICE future, industry members also told TTGmice that the destination was fast gaining popularity among Chinese MICE groups.
JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa, where MICE comprises 25 per cent of the resort’s business, has observed stronger MICE demand over the past few years and regional markets, especially China, have taken over traditional European sources, according to Kewalin Sukumjittanon, spokesperson of the five-star property.
Kinkid Mok, MICE project director of Bangkok-based CCT Group, which specialises in the Chinese MICE market, said: “Our Chinese bookings for Phuket have grown by 30 per cent year-on-year. First-time MICE visitors from China tend to opt for Bangkok or Pattaya, while repeat groups often opt for Phuket.”
CCT Group will handle a 200-pax incentive group from China’s F&B industry. The group will reside at Mövenpick properties in Phuket when it arrives in December. Meanwhile, the company is bidding for various groups for 1Q2013.
However, several local MICE players feel that Phuket is a better fit for small- to medium-sized groups due to limited venues that can accommodate big groups or large-scale meetings.
Said Max Jantasuwan, director of Asia World Destination Management which had won a 1,200-pax incentive group from the UK and Eastern Europe to Phuket for May 2013: “Phuket benefits from its location. The emergence of new luxury resorts and villas offers a good selection for clients looking for upscale accommodation.
“However, Phuket is a challenge for MICE clients who require more rooms, because most of the new luxury properties in the destination have a smaller room inventory.”
The lack of large meeting spaces is another stumbling block for Phuket.
“Sometimes potential groups would turn to Bangkok or even rival cities such as Singapore, Macau and Hainan simply because Phuket does not have a large-enough meeting facility to accommodate huge groups,” said CCT Group’s Mok.
While Phuket has a stock of unique event venues, these spaces are of little consequence when it comes to attracting Chinese MICE groups. He explained: “(These clients) still prefer five-star international hotel brands and traditional venue set-up with round tables, a stage and plenty of room to mingle in.”
Max said: “Once Phuket gets a convention centre, there will no longer be low seasons for (the destination).”
Unfortunately, no progress has been made in this direction despite repeated calls and studies purporting a large-scale meeting venue. The latest effort to construct a 2.6 billion baht international convention centre was cancelled in early-October 2012.